Calise, Seveney square off in Senate District 11 debate

Incumbent James Seveney, a Portsmouth Democrat, faces challenger Stephanie Calise, a Republican from Bristol

By Ted Hayes
Posted 11/2/18

BRISTOL — The two candidates for Rhode Island Senate District 11 vary widely on several key issues facing the state and nation, including health care and Voter ID legislation.

But at a …

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Calise, Seveney square off in Senate District 11 debate

Incumbent James Seveney, a Portsmouth Democrat, faces challenger Stephanie Calise, a Republican from Bristol


BRISTOL — The two candidates for Rhode Island Senate District 11 vary widely on several key issues facing the state and nation, including health care and Voter ID legislation.

But at a League of Women Voters forum held Tuesday night at the Bristol County State House, incumbent James Seveney, a Democrat from Portsmouth first elected to the Senate two years ago, and Bristol Republican Stephanie Calise, agreed on other matters of import to the state, including the need to reduce corruption at the State House and make government more accountable.

Answering questions posed by the audience, the two spent 15 minutes spelling out their agenda and what they’ll do if they’re elected to the Senate next Tuesday. For Ms. Calise, that means working to establish more transparency in state government by creating an office of Inspector General and other measures; for Mr. Seveney, that includes the major issues he said he’s worked to tackle during his entire political career in the Senate and previously, on the Portsmouth Town Council and school committee: Fighting substance abuse and improving schools.

“Rhode Island’s not good at customer service,” Ms. Calise said. “I think it’s time that we change that. Problems facing the state won’t be fixed unless Rhode Island gets to the root cause, and “what’s causing them is a lack of transparency.”

“If the voters choose to reelect me, my top priority … is going be substance abuse prevention,” said Sen. Seveney. “In the past two years to date we’ve lost 670 Rhode Islanders to overdoses. It’s a huge drain on our resources. In almost every sector of our society, it leads to issues in schools, it’s driving up costs for school services, for public safety services. If we can teach school kids not to go down that path, the rest will take care of itself.”

Here’s how they stand on other issues facing the state:

On single-payer health care:

“I oppose it,” Ms. Calise said. “I have seen what systems like that have done. I believe that since government has been involved in health care … we’ve seen nothing but increased restrictions, increased payments, increased deductibles and increased burdens across the board.”

“As a member of the military, I’ve been living under a single payer system just about my entire adult life,” Mr. Seveney said. “It works. It’s inexpensive. If you look at the overhead costs for Medicare, they’re at about 2 percent. If you look at the overhead costs for commercial health care, they run anywhere from about 25 to 30 percent.”

On reducing corruption at the State House:

“There’s much more work to do,” said Mr. Seveney, who said the state has started to try to address corruption issues. Tackling corruption includes “beefing up the Board of Elections requirements” for candidates and incumbents. 

“They can’t have any outstanding fines, any issues with their campaign finance. That’s been one of the biggest sources of corruption. The second thing is to toughen up the floor rules for the House and the Senate.”

Ms. Calise believes one answer is establishing an office of Inspector General. Such an office would give the state the ability to “hold people responsible for the actions they take.”

“We need agencies that can provide oversight and sanctions.”

On voter ID legislation:

“I support voter ID,” Ms. Calise said. “That being said, I know we’re making great strides in streamlining the process for voting. They need to get the whole picture together when it comes to early voting and the emergency ballot. We have a long way to go to streamline the process.”

Mr. Seveney said he does not agree and does not support voter ID.

‘It leads to more suppression. We aren’t in the business of … expanding the capability of someone to cast their vote. We need to use … tools to expand that right. Voter ID is going down the wrong path.”

On whether they support the governor’s line-item veto:

“Yes I do,” Mr. Seveney said. “If the General Assembly wanted something in the budget that the governor doesn’t, they can override that veto. In the meantime there’s more transparency.”

“I agree with it as well,” Ms Calise replied. “It’s a form of checks and balances. It creates more dialog and better debate. We’re sadly out of balance in the General Assembly.”

On increasing government transparency:

Ms. Calise referred to an office of inspector general several times during the forum, and expounded on it by saying “it holds people accountable. An office of inspector general, who has the power and authority to do something what they find” is essential. Another essentials the line-item veto, and making sure it works for the taxpayers.

“We (also) have to stop legislative grants. That’s the biggest problem right there. Let’s keep everybody honest,” she said.

“I’d like to find a way to make it easier for citizens to come and attend a hearing,” Mr. Seveney replied. “I think we need to adjust the times of day when they happen and just in general make it more accessible to the public.”

“The second thing I’d do is change some of the floor rules to allow more bills to get to the hearing process and come to the floor.”

On making Rhode Island more business-friendly:

Mr. Seveney said he had a conversation recently with a man who told him that Massachusetts is significantly cheaper for small businesses, with respect to unemployment insurance, workers’ comp and other costs. 

“He asked me why is that? I’m going to try to find out. We’re already going down the path trying to help small business,” he said.

“Stop regulating them,” Ms. Calise offered. “Stop the tangible tax. Stop trying to regulate people and businesses into complacency. Stop special interest bills that go through and adversely affect business.”

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.